Department of Oops!

One of the most influential anthropologists to my own way of analyzing global society and how it interacts with each other is Edwin Wilmsen, whose book Land Filled with Flies: A Political Economy of the Kalahari has deeply influenced my thoughts about intercultural (“foreign”) relations (the other two most influential books on me so far have been Peace Pact… and 1491…). I am currently doing a research project and came across the following sentence, which deserves to be deeply pondered by anthropologist and layman alike:

[…] those who have been responsible for formulating and implementing policy towards [the San] have relied on a functionalist equilibrium model derived from ethnography grafted onto a residual colonial construction of a static San social condition […] A key element in this ideology [governing Botswana policy towards the San] is the mystification of [San] uniqueness, a condition that [has] been imposed on them by other, hegemonically dominant ethnic groups.  Among these hegemonically dominant groups – I urge that we not forget this point – are ethnographers, whose work serves as scientific sanction for this mystification.

Wilmsen is a Marxist, and Land Filled with Flies… was written before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, but I nevertheless find his work extremely satisfying. Can anybody see why this is such a powerful critique of collectivism? Admittedly, I have depraved this post of its rich context, but I think readers here at Notes On Liberty are smart and thoughtful enough to find some gems among this deceptive-looking rock pile.

An online profile of Edwin Wilmsen.